Writing dialogue: Really?! I mean, really?!

About a year ago I was chatting with an old college friend and she was relaying a long, involved story about someone who was being an asshole. Frankly, I don’t remember anything about the story except that at a number of points in her storytelling she’d stop and say, “Really?! Really?!” You can hear how she said it, right? It’s with an implied, “Are you fucking kidding me?!” I wouldn’t have ever remembered it except that in that same week I was speaking with my neighbor and she was telling me something about someone, and again I don’t remember what the something or the someone was, but I did notice that she also said, “Really?! I mean, really?!” And she also implied a, “What an asshole” to whomever she was telling me about. And now it’s everywhere. I hear it all the time. What is that? Have I missed some cultural cue? Is it from some character on TV (which I hardly watch) who says, “Really?!” in that flabbergasted, unbelieving, judgmental way? Who is it? Tell me! It’s driving me crazy.

Do you hear other phrases or words or even cadences that have slipped into common speech? Writers, when you write your characters, do you sneak those things into their dialogue? It’s a great way to place a character in time or even to flesh them out as a certain type of human. Great use of that as a device is in the 2010 movie, The Kids Are All Right, when Paul’s speech (the Mark Ruffalo character)  is peppered with, “right on” and one of the other characters (is it Annette Benning?) makes fun of that to someone. It creates Paul as a certain kind of person. And Benning’s character, Nic picks up on that verbal conceit. It was fabulous. I can’t say “right on” any more because I get too self conscious now. Which is probably a good thing, anyhow.

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3 responses to “Writing dialogue: Really?! I mean, really?!

  1. Peg

    It comes from a Saturday night live skit / weekend update schtick. I think it was Seth myers and Amy pohler but may have originally been written by the Fabulous Tina Fey. It is annoying if overused, but in the skits it was used to punctuate disbelief regarding timely political shenanigans. Look it up on you tube!

    Really michElle Bachman? Really?

    • The ever-dependable Peg! You truly have your finger on the pulse of… um… whatever that thing is that I don’t have my finger on the pulse of! I’ll have to start watching more television.

  2. Right on, Linda. (Loved The Kids Are Alright, by the way. Have no idea where “Really? Really?” comes from, and don’t remember ever hearing it. But I bet I’ll start hearing it all the time, now that you’ve pointed it out to me.)